Saturday, July 3, 2010

Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and Unapproachable Light

The other day Wikipedia yielded me a rather academic explanation of Schrodinger's Cat. The phrase had jumped out at me twice in one day and I figured I better look it up, since I have the information superhighway at my fingertips. After Wikipedia and a little digging from friends on Facebook(SUCH reliable sources!) I discovered the what the thought experiment known as “Schrodinger's Cat” is all about.

Schrodinger was a physicist and a contemporary of Einstein. In fact they were friends. Evidently due to some radical physics discovery of their day, related to the theory of relativity, it's understood that a particle, say an atom's nucleus, actually has multiple simultaneous positions, in a given system at a particular moment in time.

Yes, what I just said was, it's in two places at once.

Or maybe more than that- it may actually be in an infinite number of places at once, or something. Please forgive my lack of education on this, if I get facts wrong, it's cause I'm running with something I just read about for the first time in a field that's way over my head.

If I understand correctly, light shined through piece of cardboard with two slits in it, if conceived of as a particle, can be shown to have passed through both slits simultaneously. So what theyr'e saying is, the position, actual place where a particle seems to be is not as cut and dried as we thought. Physics tells us this, it's not speculation.

Back to the cat. Schrodinger imagined a box in which a cat was placed, and which also contained a vial of poisonous gas. A hammer has a fifty percent chance of breaking the glass in five minutes time. The hammer is hooked up to a Geiger counter which is monitoring a piece of plutonium whose half-life is 5 minutes, should it decompose, the hammer falls, and breaks the vial, poisoning the cat.

Or something like that. The idea is that in five minutes, the cat might die or might stay alive. The box is closed so the observer cannot see the “system” enclosed. The idea Schrodinger postulated was that, given the discovery of matter being “relatively” positioned, meaning that it's position sort of depends on whether or not it's being observed, the radioactive particle, with respect to the scientist, is both in a state of decomposition and not simultaneously. Meaning that the cat is both alive and dead at the same time.

Poor thing. It would be so much more comfortable if it made up its mind. Seriously though, this is the conclusion he came to based on the particle theory(which I have such a weak grasp on) that was being worked on at the time.

I might have a bunch of this wrong, and you can look it up yourself, or correct me if you're a physicist, but I think I understand that the experiment, while speculative, is a fairly accurate picture of the implications of the theory. In other words, reality is much less “definite” than we thought.

Heisenberg said something similar. Evidnently if you try to measure a particle's position and vector simultaneously, you can't do it. If you pinpoint it's position at a moment in time, the vector(a statistic based on velocity and direction) is immeasurable. If you accurately find it's velocity and direction, it's actual position becomes fuzzy, and eludes perfect measurement. It appears to be in multiple positions at the same time. The implication is the same: matter isn't necessarily where you think it is. The more definite you try to become the more it evades your definition. The car driving past me down the road is technically in a number of places at once, depending on your position. It's not “relativism” it's “relativity.”

There's an connection here that I haven't heard made yet, perhaps because until recently it was so rare to find theistic people interested in the hard sciences.

The Orthodox have a way of approaching deity that is called “apophatic.” This means that in order to accurately speak of God, you can not quite describe him, you have to describe what he is not. You sort of have to describe the space around him, and then begin to pick up a shape that is suggestive of who he is. He's in the “negative space” of what is not being described, so to speak.  God is not created.  He is not male or female.  He does not have five senses therefore he does not "see" as we do. 

He dwells in unapproachable light.  The cloud of unknowing that the mystics speak of. 

Of course, for the Christian he has been “pinned down,” that is, interpreted perfectly for human minds. This is what Jesus is- the “one mediator between God and man.” He is the way men may know God, and what his intentions are. The problem being, we humans have the funniest way of naming Jesus according to our own designs. He is the “I AM,” the self-identifying one, the one who no one must presume to form in their own image. Yet we do just that, and disastrous things result. Each iteration of the Church has begun with a grasp on a very important “picture” of who Jesus is, what the Gospel means, and what the Kingdom of God looks like. And it manifests in a particular way. But in time, with what one sociologist called the “routinization of charisma,” the order gets reversed. God, we begin to think, serves our particular manifestation. He's bending to our will. We've got this particular way of doing things, and that's the way God wants them done. He must think very highly of us, since we've got things down so well.

And off it goes all to hell, these golden calfs that are designed to glorify God and end up being tools for rebellious people to remake him in their own image. The I AM. He can't be defined, except by himself. Which is why Jesus himself is the definition of God, but human faith-response to Jesus and it's fruit, while expected and inevitable, do not define God. Nor do they need to always stay the same in order for God to be present and at work redemptively. When the defining of God becomes the business of spirituality, things go off the rails. Why? Because it's not God's design to be simply known about. Even the demons do that. His design is that we love him.

Why does the particle elude having its position defined? Why is reality so much sketchier than we thought- at least when one tries to pinpoint its exact position? Because the Maker didn't design it to be defined. He designed it to be enjoyed. Taste and see. It's good. It testifes to the goodness of the Maker. It's his way of showing us how much he loves us. It's proves his intentions aren't malevolent. But the closer one intends to get to knowing the exact nature of something is the closer one gets to misusing it and committing idolatry. It shouldn't take too long to think of examples of this from all over the religious spectrum.

It's like the parable of the tribe of curious seekers in the wilderness who had cut open the antelope to try and find out where the life came from. Obviously, they would have been better off simply watching and wondering at the thing as it bounded through the fields. True science begins with delight.

And no, this is not a diatribe against science or discovery or the research that led to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and other fascinating laws of physics. I think these things should be enjoyed:)

Yes I just used a smiley face.   


Erin Hope said...

smiley faces are meant to be enjoyed too.
I'm glad you've realized how amazing they are.... wanna help me recruit some more people?

good stuff though, seriously. :)

Erin Hope said...

I must be the comment fiend right now... but....

wondering if you are at all interested in elaborating some related thoughts to this post in another one?

what do you think about people's sense of awe in regards to God? ...or for instance his power, and might? These don't seem to be things that are emphasized all that much now, almost as though it's another way to try and box God up and make him a little more tame. And in regards to people's lack of confidence, seems like when we forget how powerful he is we look to ourselves and realize that we are not actually capable of well, anything.... instead of realizing the hands we are held in.... the hands that even death cannot snatch us from, and deriving unshakable confidence from that.

well. there it is. Just a few thoughts from a really good conversation I had tonight.